Inflatable rats, or union rats, are commonly used in the United States of America by protesting or striking trade unions against their employers or against nonunion contractors, serving as a sign of opposition and to call public attention to companies employing nonunion labor.
Unions have been using them for years against companies that employ nonunion labor, and employers have filed lawsuits charging that the use of the giant inflatable rats constituted unlawful picketing, and some courts have agreed. Though in May 2011, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) held that union use of an inflatable monster rat is not considered an unlawful activity when directed at a secondary employer. Also, in 2011 National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in Sheet Metal Workers Local 15, 356 NLRB No. 162 (2011) ruled that the inflatable rat did not constitute a signal picket, but instead, constituted symbolic speech which is not subject to secondary boycott rules. This holding allows the union not only to place the inflatable rats at neutral entrances, but also to place them at locations where the picketed company is absent. The practice of using inflatable rats in union protests may have something to do with the usage of the word "rat" to refer to nonunion contractors.
While the inflatable rat sometimes varies in appearance and size, it generally features large teeth and grotesque features, particularly a scabby belly. Many unions have nicknamed the inflatable rat "Scabby the Rat", a reference to scabs.
Chuck Salter, of fastcompany.com, dates the usage of inflatable union rats to 1991, when Mike O' Connor of a Plainfield, Illinois balloon and searchlight firm made a rat due to a request from Ken Lambert, a Chicago union organizer. As of 2003[update], the rats ranged from 6 feet tall to 30 feet tall, but 12 feet is the most popular height due to local laws limiting the height of inflatable objects on display.
The inflatable rat appeared in the UK for the first time in the 2013 Grangemouth Oil Refinery dispute. This tactic was criticised by the UK press. Union 'mobs', including seven year old children, were accused of 'Trying to portray [an Ineos director] as a nasty boss, a nasty capitalist [...] someone evil.'
- "Unions' Inflatable Rat an Endangered Species". 2005-09-09. Retrieved 2008-07-16.
- "The Obama Board and the Giant Rat: NLRB Holds That Union Use of Inflatable Monster Rat Does Not Constitute Unlawful Activity Directed At A Secondary Employer". 2011-05-28. Retrieved 2011-05-28.
- Lees, Judd H. (2011-06-11). "NLRB Rules Inflatable Rats May No Longer Constitute Signal Pickets". Williams Kastner. Retrieved 2011-08-11.
- Sarah Jaffe. "The History of Scabby the Rat". vice.com.
- "The Inflatable Union Rat". December 2003. Retrieved 2008-07-16.
- Tim Lezard (18 November 2013). "Unions smell a rat over government’s Grangemouth enquiry". Union-News UK.
- Hayley Dixon (31 Oct 2013). "Unite union accused of using bully tactics in Grangemouth dispute". Daily Telegraph.
- Dean Herbert (November 8, 2013). "MP calls on police to probe Grangemouth union ‘bully boys’". Scottish Daily Express.
- Tim Shipman; Paul Bentley (30 October 2013). "Terrorised by union bullies". Daily Mail.